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viewers to “check out WGU Indiana today.”
Daniels wasn’t the first person to suggest private labeling
WGU. The school has been looking at ways to expand and
export its educational model, which is markedly different
than traditional online programs.
WGU has been in conversations with a half dozen states,
but Governor Daniels was “unique,” said Mendenhall: “He
got it immediately, wanted to do it, and invested a significant
amount of his own time and effort in making it happen.”
Fast forward to an unseasonably warm, windy day in late
October of 2010. Inside an airy atrium of the Indiana state
capitol, about 100 smiling onlookers enjoyed a classical string
trio before Daniels delivered the commencement address
to the first graduates of WGU Indiana. Because the school
just started enrolling students in July, all the graduates were
former WGU students who, by
virtue of their Indiana residency,
had automatically been transferred
toWGU Indiana once the school
was established.
The commencement was
designed in part for the graduates
and their families, and in part
to generate “earned media
coverage”—essentially unpaid
advertising for the fledgling
institution. “Everything I do
better have some media visibility,
because it’s the only way I’m going
to educate the state about the
opportunities for higher education withWGU Indiana,” said
Chancellor Barber.
That there were only 16 graduates—only seven of whom
were in attendance—didn’t discourage Barber in the slightest.
After all, as Mendenhall reminded the crowd, there was only
one graduate at WGU’s first commencement a decade ago;
this fiscal year, the school expects to graduate between 3,300
and 3,400 students.
“Today is a one-of-a-kind occasion, to be followed by
many more,” Daniels told the crowd. He had good reason to
be optimistic. Already, WGU Indiana has enrolled more than
450 students, who now represent about ten percent of all new
WGU students. With enrollment increasing a whopping 30
percent annually, WGU is predicting it will grow from 21,000
students to 30,000 within the next few years. About 5,000 of
those students are expected to be enrolled at WGU Indiana.
Said Daniels: “WGU fits Indiana like a tailored suit.”
What the governor means is this: Only about a third
of the state’s adults hold an associate’s degree or higher.
But 22 percent of the state’s adult population—about
730,000 people—have some college under their belt. And
that’s exactly the population that WGU—and nowWGU
Indiana—targets. Those adult students, many of whom have
families and other ties to the state, are far more likely than
younger, traditional-age college-goers to remain in the state
once they’ve completed their degrees, said Scott Jenkins, the
governor’s senior policy director for education. With startup
and future marketing costs covered by foundation grants, and
operational costs covered by tuition, “the profits are returned
to the state in terms of degrees,” Jenkins explained.
WGU Indiana functions exactly like WGU. It charges
the same tuition; carries the same course offerings; uses the
same faculty “mentors,” who follow students through their
programs, maintaining a one-on-one relationship with them
throughout their educational career; and offers the same
opportunities to complete programs at a pace that would be
impossible at a more traditional institution. Dawn Hanson
of Greenfield, Indiana, for instance, received her bachelor’s
degree in nursing in August—just four months after she
enrolled inWGU with an associate’s degree from Ivy Tech,
Indiana’s statewide community college.
“I’m grateful toWGU for providing the opportunity
for me, a working wife and mom, to finish her education
without sacrificing precious time with my family,” the 39-
year-old Hanson said during her commencement address,
which followed the governor’s. She shared a quotation by
George Washington Carver, “When you can do the common
things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the
attention of the world,” and then expressed her hope that,
“in years to come, this graduation ceremony will be full of
fellowHoosiers, ready for their time to shine, their time to
command the attention of the world.”
Among those moved by her words was Kara Tanner, 47,
of Noblesville, Indiana, a newWGU Indiana student who has
been using her associate’s degree in information technology
in her current job as a software analyst. With her daughter,
whom she raised as a single parent, about to finish high
school, Tanner decided to finally pursue her lifelong dream of
“The time had come to lead by example and show her
that you can live your dream,” said Tanner. But at the same
time, she said, “The idea of going to school for eight years in
the evenings part-time was just overwhelming.” She is hoping
that she can leverage her knowledge of literature and history
to get throughWGU Indiana’s program in just three years.
Robert Mendenhall, president of Western Governors University, reminded the small
crowd at WGU Indiana’s first graduation ceremony that there was only one graduate
at WGU’s first commencement.
Historically, Indiana’s
heavy manufacturing base
provided decent incomes
even for those with only a
high school diploma.
But many of those jobs
no longer exist.